In 2002, I graduated with an English degree from the University of Virginia. I also, like most other students, graduated with a tight crew of friends from the past four years who were bereft at not living inside our little bubble for any longer. We were to be torn asunder, cast into the cruel, real world, never to see each other again and to enjoy the camaraderie and hijinks that had so defined our undergraduate experience (aka, endless rounds of beer pong and late-night Ben & Jerry’s runs).
Okay, we weren’t really being torn asunder. Many of us were moving to Northern Virginia; one of us was going to medical school; I was moving abroad for a year teaching at a school in Italy. But for the first time in a really long time we weren’t going to be within a stone’s throw of each other’s houses, able to hang out five minutes after sending each other an Instant Message (by the way, can somebody please write the definitive think piece on what Instant Messaging meant to those of us in college in the late 90s and early aughts?).
You might be surprised to hear that even though it was just 2002, a relatively early time in the mass adoption of the web, we turned to the internet for a solution. I’m not sure how we decided on the best communication tool to keep us together, but we dug up a site called MyFamily.com. It was a platform developed by the folks at Ancestry.com to tie families together so they could share photos, messages, and other thoughts on a relatively simple Facebook-like newsfeed. The idea was to keep your family caught up on each others’ lives, post pictures you’d taken, and generally keep in touch.
We weren’t technically a family, but we were our own little college tribe, and MyFamily.com worked pretty well for us. I don’t remember exactly why we stopped using it, but it probably had something to do with the combination of the advent of Facebook around 2006, and the fact that we were just growing up and apart – as you do, and as you should.
Ever since then, I’ve been on the hunt for community-oriented sites that keep me connected to my friends and filled in on fun things happening on the internet. For a while, blogs were that niche. You wouldn’t think of the as necessarily community oriented in their form today, but in the early to mid-aughts they were – I met most of my DC friends through blogs and actively participated in comment threads and group blogs for a few years.
After blogs in that form were winding down, for me, next was Google Reader and its social functions. I had a core group of friends that would chit chat and share relevant links through there. We even held what we called South by Google Reader – in person meet-ups in DC a few times. But we all know what eventually happened there.
Now? Now I’m on Slack.
If you’ve heard of Slack, it’s because you read some breathless review about how it’s transforming internal office communications, or perhaps because you actually do use it for internal office communications yourself. My workplace uses it and I think all the hype is pretty spot-on – it’s an incredibly useful communications tool that keeps us on track with projects and status updates as well as just keeping the whole team in touch with each other and understanding what everybody is working on.
But the best Slack? The best Slack is Friend Slack.
Over a year ago a group of friends (primarily the same ones with whom I was on Google Reader) started a private Slack to semi-try to replace Google Reader – to find and share cool links and comment on them. Turns out Slack is sort of a sucky Google Reader replacement – it’s not just as easy to share links seamlessly like it was with GR. But it also turns out that it’s just a lot of fun, and useful in many different ways.
If you were ever on IRC in the olden golden days of the late ‘90s, Slack is a lot like that environment. Basically, it’s a chat room you can use all day long to gossip with, share links with, share tips with, vent with, and generally just talk a lot with your friends.
In our friend Slack, we’ve split up our room into a variety of different channels. We have one for #links. We have one for #justdcthings, where those of us who live in D.C. (a number which is shrinking by the month, sadly) either plan to do things, or share links about new bars and restaurants in our neighborhoods opening up. A few of us who are interested in skincare and beauty tips have a channel dedicated to that. Back last January, when several of us were making resolutions to lose a few pounds, we started a weight loss channel, which I credit (and I think my friends would, too) with helping me lose about seven pounds. (In it, we would post plans to exercise, share progress, put in recipes, and generally bitch and moan about how hard trying to lose weight in your mid-30s is. It was actually very helpful.)
The private group functions are great, too – we’ve created private groups to better plan vacations amongst a few of us, and the ladies have a girls-only chat room we use to share ladies news and thoughts (sorry male Slack friends reading this). Additionally, it’s almost completely replaced Gchat for me as my private messaging tool of choice.
The one thing that I really think is missing from other online communities I've really loved is the ability to have sort of serendipitous interactions with online strangers (that sounds kind of gross and weird?) and meet others by the grace of the web. Slack is very closed, though there are public Slack channels based on topic you can join (I haven't tried that, though).
Anyways, on this day of thanks when we're spread all over and possibly apart from loved ones, family, and friends, consider forcing all of the people in your life to adapt Slack as a way to keep in touch. BECAUSE THE INTERNET IS FOREVER AND NOW THEY CAN NEVER LEAVE YOU.